The first phase of the proposed Konza Technology City, a tech-centered urban development designed as part of Kenya's Vision 2030 is underway, with the construction of a modest eight-storey building that will house the Konza Technopolis Development Authority. The building will serve as a base from which further operations will be coordinated, the authority has announced.
The first phase will involve the construction of the city’s administrative headquarters. The project will run through a public-private partnership, with the government providing land and key infrastructure – road links, railway access, water, telecoms and sewerage systems.
Phase one will also include 30 hectares of urban parks as well as a large wildlife corridor along the southern boundary of the site.
Konza Technology city was first approved in 2008 as a flagship project in Kenya's Vision 2030, with the expectation that the purpose-built city would be the ICT hub of Africa upon its completion. Following this, the Government of Kenya contracted the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank, in 2009 to advise on the development and implementation of a world-class technology city that would become the focal point for the technology industry in Kenya.
Konza City was initially conceived as a means to capitalize on the growing global Business Processing Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services sectors in Kenya, but the delays have put off potential investors, especially from the targeted international IT firms that would have set up shop there.
The project is, however, more than five years behind schedule, raising questions on whether it could indeed meet the timeline projected, or whether it can actually meet its stated objectives.
Konza City has received its fair share of scepticism as a result of the delays, with some arguing that the money going towards the development of the city could be better spent in growing the existing tech ecosystem. Even as the Konza Technology City Development Authority (KoTDA) CEO Engineer John Tanui sought to reassure investors and members of the public of the project's viability, reports have emerged indicating that the project had in fact stalled.
According to the project schedule, the first phase was to be completed in 2017, although this timeline will likely be adjusted significantly in order to accommodate these delays.
The delay of the construction has been attributed to a number of challenges:
Energy: Questions have been raised over whether the existing electricity supply can meet the added demand that the city will create. A reliable and constant supply of electricity is essential in order to facilitate the smooth running of the project, and since Kenya's peak demand is already higher than supply, new sources of energy will have to be brought online in order to power the project going forward.
Water Supply: Sufficient and uninterrupted water supply has been a major challenge, with developers calling on the government to ensure a steady flow of water on the 5000-acre parcel of land to facilitate the development of the project.
Infrastructure: Infrastructure is key in ensuring a smooth flow of materials and workforce to the site. At the moment, there is very little infrastructure in place, meaning that all of it will have to be built from scratch. The Government's infrastructure budget is currently stretched thin because of ongoing projects, in this case the Standard Gauge Railway and other more pressing commitments, meaning that Konza City is not exactly seen as a priority at the moment.
Issues Over Jurisdiction - Confusion over where the land on which Konza City will be built caused controversy over which county government would have jurisdiction over it. This led to a number of protests and the politicization of the project, leading to further delays. Like other government projects, Konza City has attracted plenty of profiteers looking to buy land in the area in the hope that it will rise in value. To combat this, the Ministry of Land has issued a moratorium on land development within a ten-kilometer radius of Konza City.
KoTDA insists plans are underway to ensure that the project takes off, despite the challenges identified. For a plan this ambitious, it is clear that these challenges will have to be dealt with before real progress can be made.
In order to accomplish this, KoTDA has contracted a 6-firm international team led by HR&A Advisors — a New York-based real estate, economic development and energy efficiency consulting firm - to oversee Konza’s real estate, business and governance planning strategies.
HR&A will undertake the master planning of the entire property, with the Government financing the backbone infrastructure. The construction of the city is projected to take 20 years and cost KES 600 billion (US$5.8 billion), of which the government will invest about 10% in the development of core infrastructure to facilitate investment by the private sector.
The other firms in the consortium include:
- SHoP Architects, who are in charge of the conceptual design for the sales pavilion and the urban design for Phase 1,
- Dalberg Global Development Advisors, advising KoTDA on economic strategy, tenant outreach, and organisational strategy ,
- The Center for Urban and Regional Planning, in charge of preparing the Local Physical Development Plan,
- OZ Architecture, providing sustainability strategies for the project,
- Tetra Tech, who are developing the infrastructure concepts for Konza.
Engineer Tanui remains optimistic that the project will take off, albeit much later than scheduled. A number of Kenyan firms remain committed to setting up shop once everything is sorted out, including Safaricom, Wananchi Online, Craft Silicon, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization, the University of Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and the Nairobi Hospital.
"Much of the infrastructure needed for Konza to take off is in progress. We will soon have link roads, a power substation, and a dam to supply water for the city in the long term,” he said in conclusion.